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Mini-Skirts, Beer and Football: Ambush Marketing and The 2014 FIFA World Cup

Any sports event offers huge commercial opportunities and the 2014 FIFA World Cup is no different. If you are not an official sponsor, however, this is an area fraught with risk and there are some very important issues to take into account. DWF Partners Ed Meikle and Dominic Watkins explore the key issues and some of the more famous examples of ambush marketing.

Mini-Skirts

When images circulated around the world showing 40 young women dressed in orange mini-skirts being ejected from the Holland v Denmark match during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA and official sponsor Budweiser were outraged but rival beer brand Bavaria was hailed as executing one of the most successful ambush marketing campaigns in recent years.

So what marketing can I do around the World Cup?

Any reference to the World Cup, express or implied will carry risk. While general references to football may be acceptable, rights to this event, like most major sporting events, are very strongly protected and enforced. Any attempt to mislead or take unfair advantage of FIFA's trade marks by implying that you are an official sponsor could result in legal action.

Social media is a particularly difficult area. Twitter has reported that the World Cup has been mentioned 10 million times on Twitter in the last year. In 140 characters, the need for care grows massively given how protected this area is and how quickly tweets spread.

To help, FIFA has produced a list of marketing activities "Dos and Don'ts" including the following:

Acceptable

  • An advertisement or promotion using general football terms and imagery
  • General football-related or Brazil-related in-store decoration, e.g. displaying the flag of Brazil
  • Merchandize with general football terms or Brazil-related terms or national flags

Not Acceptable

  • The use of an official trade mark on social media giving the impression that a page is officially related to the 2014 FIFA World Cup
  • The use of an official trade mark as part of an in-store decoration or on any merchandise
  • An advertisement using any of the official trade marks
  • Any type of game, contest or lottery using an official trade mark
  • Any use of the match schedule for advertising
  • The use of an official trade mark as part of a business name or domain name

FIFA has stated that its examples and guidelines are not to be used by companies who deliberately intend to ambush the World Cup to avoid liability but to provide practical assistance to those who have an honest intention to avoid infringing its rights.

Marketing around previous sporting events would suggest that it won't just be well-known global superbrands looking to capitalise on the World Cup without being an official sponsor.

Largest Athletics Event in London in 2012 (London, France, that is...)

Ahead of the London 2012 Olympics, the organisers booked almost all the city's billboard space during the Games but that did not prevent Paddy Power's poster campaign at London train stations, claiming it to be "Official Sponsor of the Largest Athletics Event in London this Year", London also being the name of a village in France where the betting company staged the world's largest egg and spoon race. Olympics organisers ordered the adverts to be taken down but then back-pedaled rapidly when faced with Paddy Power's threat of a Court order to overturn the ban, by which time news of the betting company's antics had gone viral.

London Pride – "Support English Rugby"

During the 2009 Six Nations Rugby Championship, governing body the Rugby Football Union complained to the UK's Advertising Standards Authority that Fuller's London Pride's use of the phrase "Support English Rugby" with a picture of a rugby post implied that the beer brand was an official sponsor endorsed by the England Rugby team. However, the ASA held that readers of the press advert were unlikely to be misled into thinking that Fuller's was an official sponsor and concluded that the advert did not take unfair advantage of the reputation of the England rugby team.

Conclusion

If you are not an official sponsor but are planning a football-related marketing campaign over the next few weeks, it can be done but not without careful consideration to avoid legal action.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Ed Meikle

Partner - Head of Retail Group

I advise on all aspects of intellectual property law, especially advising businesses in retail, food, sport and consumer products on the development, commercialisation and protection of their brands and technology.

Dominic Watkins

Partner - Head of Food Group

I am Head of DWF’s internationally renowned food sector group as well as being Head of Regulatory in London.